LIMESTONE, Maine — Even though the controlled implosion of the old heat plant at the former Loring Air Force Base did not go as anticipated, officials with the company that owns the building said they would hire the company in charge of the demolition again.
Much of the 64-year-old building was still standing at 11:05 a.m. Saturday, five minutes after the explosives were detonated. Before the event, Portland-based Engineered Products Co. Inc. said the implosion would be the largest ever in the state.
In a controlled building implosion, structures are turned into a pile of rubble through a series of timed and carefully placed explosive charges which drop the building straight down without damaging any nearby structures. It was supposed to take just six seconds for the building to come down. Precision Explosives, the New York company hired by Engineered Products to implode the building, used 290 pounds of dynamite with 105 blasting caps, which officials said was a larger amount than usual because of the amount of steel in the building.
After the implosion was conducted and the cloud of dust that came after settled, however, much of the building remained standing.
“When the implosion didn’t totally work, my first reaction was that they underestimated the people who constructed it,” said Hayes Gahagan, projects manager with Loring BioEnergy LLC, which owns the old heat plant.
“This was built to be bombproof during the Cold War, when the social and political climate was totally different,” he said late Monday afternoon.
Officials with Engineered Products said in a press release Monday evening that they were “surprised as anyone” that the building didn’t fall.
“This was the biggest implosion ever undertaken in the state of Maine”, stated Steve Milley – founder, president and owner of the company. “We’ve been involved with several similar projects in Maine and along the East Coast but nothing of this magnitude. We were as surprised as anyone that the building didn’t totally fall as expected, but we are already back on the job and it will be completed within a few days.”
Loring BioEnergy, which hired Engineered Products to demolish the building, has plans to capitalize on the new businesses that are coming into Loring that will need energy by offering the former base as an energy infrastructure center.
Gahagan said Engineered Products made the choice to implode the building rather than use machinery to bring it down.
“Once the implosion didn’t take it down, we just knew that they would have to do two steps instead of one,” said Gahagan. “By 9 a.m. Monday, Engineered Products had the remaining smokestacks down and started dismantling the rest of the building with wrecking balls and other machinery. I was told that this would set them back three days, at most.”
Before the implosion, they said that viewers would see the collapse of the building’s five smokestacks, followed by the sight of the building itself falling away in a huge cloud of dust. The tallest smokestack was 230 feet. Three smokestacks fell to the ground during the implosion, and some of the building crumbled. A portion of the back and sides of the building gave way, but the majority of the structure remained standing. Even some of the windows in the old plant were unbroken.
“The building was weakened enough by the implosion that it can easily be taken down with equipment, and everything will be done and cleared away in 10 to 12 weeks,” Gahagan said Monday.
Officials with Engineered Products did not say why the building failed to implode completely. But Jennifer Gregor, operations and marketing manager for the company, said that “the consensus of the on-lookers was that, even though the building didn’t completely fall, the event was exciting, and that they fully supported any energy related development using private funding.”
The heat plant was a sealed building constructed of steel support beams. Crews started prepping the building for the explosion approximately six weeks ago, removing all hazardous material and cutting the steel for the installation of the shaped charges that were to direct the building to fall in the designated direction. The nearest occupied building to the old heat plant was 1,000 feet away.
Gahagan said Monday that 95 percent of the old plant was made of steel. He said that Loring BioEnergy had hoped to reuse the building, which was shut down in 1994. It provided coal-powered heat and hot water to more than 10,000 officers, airmen, dependents and civilians who lived and worked on the base over the years.
In the end, however, the company decided to move ahead with the demolition of the heat plant.
Gahagan said the extra work will not prove to be a financial hardship for Loring BioEnergy.
According to Gahagan, Engineered Products will cut and remove steel from the demolished building, and then sell the steel to help cover its demolition costs. He added that there is a chance Loring BioEnergy could get a percentage of the proceeds of the sale if the price of the steel exceeds the cost of demolition.
“They get the steel, and when they are done, we get a clean site that we can redevelop,” said Gahagan. “And if we end up with a percentage of the steel sale proceeds, that is great.”
He added that Loring BioEnergy officials waited until the price of steel was at its peak before having the building taken down.
Gahagan said that if the building were demolished at a time when the price of steel was much lower, Loring BioEnergy would have had to pay an estimated $600,000 for the demolition work.
“We chose Engineered Products because we wanted to do business with a Maine company,” he said. “We would use them again.”